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Passive-aggressive behaviour refers to passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to authoritative instructions in interpersonal or occupational situations. It can manifest itself as resentment, stubbornness, procrastination, sullenness, or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is assumed, often explicitly, to be responsible. It is a defensive posture and, more often than not, only partly conscious. For example, people who are passive-aggressive might take so long to get ready for a party they do not wish to attend, that the party is nearly over by the time they arrive.

Passive-aggression as a personality disorder[]

Passive-aggressive personality disorder
ICD-10 F60.8
ICD-9 301.84
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Passive-aggressive personality disorder (also called negativistic personality disorder) is a controversial personality disorder said to be marked by a pervasive pattern of negative attitudes and passive, usually disavowed resistance in interpersonal or occupational situations.

It was listed as an Axis II personality disorder in the DSM-III-R, but was moved in the DSM-IV to Appendix B ("Criteria Sets and Axes Provided for Further Study") because of controversy and the need for further research on how to categorize the behaviors in a future edition. On that point, Cecil Adams writes: "Merely being passive-aggressive isn't a disorder but a behavior — sometimes a perfectly rational behavior, which lets you dodge unpleasant chores while avoiding confrontation. It's only pathological if it's a habitual, crippling response reflecting a pervasively pessimistic attitude" [1].

When the behaviors are part of a disorder or personality style, repercussions are usually not immediate but accumulate over time as the individuals affected by them come to recognize the disavowed aggression coming their way.often quite unconscious of their impact on others and genuinely dismayed when held to account for the inconvenience or discomfort their passive-aggressive behaviors cause others. They fail to see how they might have provoked a negative response, feel misunderstood, held to unreasonable standards and/or put upon.

Treatment of this disorder can be difficult: efforts to convince people that unconscious feelings are being expressed passively and are the reason for people's anger or disappointment in them are met with resistance. and he or she will frequently leave treatment claiming that it did no good. Since the effectiveness of various therapies have yet to be proven, these individuals may be correct.

In the psychoanalytic theory of transactional analysis, many types of passive-aggressive behavior are interpreted as "games" with a hidden psychological payoff, and are classified into stereotypical scenarios with names like "See What You Made Me Do" and "Look How Hard I've Tried".


The term "passive-aggressive" was first used by the U.S. military during World War II, when military psychiatrists noted the behavior of soldiers who displayed passive resistance and reluctant compliance to orders. [2]

Common signs of passive-aggressive personality disorder[]

There are certain behaviors that help identify passive-aggressive behavior. [3]

  • Ambiguity
  • Avoiding responsibility by claiming forgetfulness
  • Blaming others
  • Chronic lateness and forgetfulness
  • Complaining
  • Does not express hostility or anger openly
  • Fear of authority
  • Fear of competition
  • Fear of dependency
  • Fear of intimacy
  • Fosters chaos
  • Intentional inefficiency
  • Making excuses and lying
  • Obstructionism
  • Procrastination
  • Resentment
  • Resists suggestions from others
  • Sarcasm
  • Sullenness

A passive-aggressive may not have all of these behaviours, and may have other non-passive-aggressive traits.

Passive-aggressive PD: History of the disorder

The term "passive-aggressive" arose in the U.S. military during World War II, when officers noted that some soldiers seemed to shirk duties by adopting passive-aggressive type behaviors.

Passive-aggressive PD: Epidemiology

  • Passive-aggressive PD: Incidence
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Prevalence
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Morbidity
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Mortality
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Racial distribution
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Age distribution
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Sex distribution

Passive-aggressive PD: Risk factors

  • Passive-aggressive PD: Known evidence of risk factors
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Theories of possible risk factors

Passive-aggressive PD: Etiology

  • Passive-aggressive PD: Known evidence of causes
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Theories of possible causes

Passive-aggressive PD: Diagnosis & evaluation

  • Passive-aggressive PD: Psychological tests
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Assessment isssues
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Evaluation protocols

Passive-aggressive PD: Treatment

  • outcome studies
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Treatment protocols
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Treatment considerations
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Evidenced based treatment
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Theory based treatment
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Team working considerations
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Followup

Passive-aggressive PD: For people with this difficulty

  • Passive-aggressive PD: Service user: How to get help
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Service user: Self help materials
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Service user: Useful reading
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Service user: Useful websites
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Service user: User feedback on treatment of this condition

Passive-aggressive PD: For their carers

  • Passive-aggressive PD: Carer: How to get help
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Carer: Useful reading
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Carer: Useful websites

Instructions_for_archiving_academic_and_professional_materials Passive-aggressive PD: Academic support materials

  • Passive-aggressive PD: Academic: Lecture slides
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Academic: Lecture notes
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Academic: Lecture handouts
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Academic: Multimedia materials
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Academic: Other academic support materials
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Academic: Anonymous fictional case studies for training

Passive-aggressive PD: For the practitioner

  • Passive-aggressive PD: Practitioner: Further reading
  • Passive-aggressive PD: Practitioner: Useful websites

Passive-aggressive PD: Anonymous fictional case studies for training

See also[]

References & Bibliography[]

  2. "Definition of Passive-aggressive". URL accessed on 2006-06-15.
  3. Scott Wetzler, Ph.D.. "Living with the Passive-Aggressive Man". URL accessed on 2006-06-15.

Key texts[]



Additional material[]



  • Lane, C. (2009). The surprising history of passive-aggressive personality disorder. Theory & Psychology, 19, 55-70. Full text

External links[]

Personality Disorder
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DSM-IV Personality Disorders

Cluster A (Odd) - Schizotypal, Schizoid, Paranoid
Cluster B (Dramatic) - Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic
Cluster C (Anxious) - Dependent, Obsessive-Compulsive, Avoidant
Personality disorder not otherwise specified
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Treating Personality Disorder
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